Iran warns of “human tragedy” if Helmand River water not released within three months

Iran has recently warned of a “human tragedy” if water from the Helmand River is not released to the drought-ridden southeastern Sistan-Balochistan region in the next three months amid disputes over water rights between Kabul and Tehran.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA reports that about 200 members of the Iranian parliament signed a statement on Tuesday urging the Taliban authorities to immediately supply water to irrigate wetlands in its arid south, which heavily depends on water from the Helmand River.

The statement indicates that Iran has “legitimate rights” over Helmand  River water which emerges from the Hindu Kush mountains in east-central Afghanistan and flows southwest before emptying into the Helmand swamps on the border with Iran.

“Iran has natural, historical, and international rights over the Helmand River water which is deeply connected to the livelihood of people in the region,” Part of the statement was quoted in IRNA.

“Any denial of these water rights will be considered the violation of human rights of the people of Iran and a breach of international law.”

The Iranian parliamentarians have warned that the people in the Sistan-Balochistan region are in “dire” need of water and a “human tragedy” will unfold if they are not granted access to Helmand waters.

It was further added that the Hamun Lake, or the Hamun-e-Helmand, which primarily feeds by the main perennial Helmand River, has increasingly shrunk as a result of prolonged droughts and this will have repercussions for the entire region.

“We ask the ruling authorities in Afghanistan to promptly take action by releasing Helmand River water into Iran’s southeastern region. Afghanistan should know that Iran has welcomed millions of refugees from the country and it is expected that unnecessary and undiplomatic literature should be avoided; instead, they should release water to not allow that our relationship deteriorate any further.” Part of the statement reads.

Taliban officials have not reacted or commented on Iran’s Tuesday statement.

The water dispute between both sides intensified when Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a visit to the southeastern region accused the Taliban of violating the 1973 treaty that “grants” Iranians the right to use 22 cubic meters of water per second with the possibility of an additional four cubic meters. 

The Taliban reacted by saying that the group is committed to the 1973 treaty but cited low sea levels and seasonal drought as the reasons that water cannot be released into Iran. Later, Iran released satellite images claiming that there is enough water in the Helmand River.